Last Autumn, our founder Florence Gaudry-Perkins had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable organized by the association ‘Femmes Pharma’, which supports women’s professional development in the healthcare sector. The theme of the roundtable was "The impact of digital health and the role of women".

Now more than ever, as digital health is experiencing unprecedented growth due to the pandemic, the question of the place of women in this field deserves attention. Franck Le Meur, CEO of TechToMed, moderated the discussion with four women from different backgrounds: Laurence Comte-Arassus, General Manager GE Healthcare France, Belgium, Luxembourg and French-speaking Africa (FBFA); Virginie Lleu, Founder and Managing Director of L3S Partnership; Laura Létourneau, Ministerial Delegate for Digital Health; and Florence Gaudry-Perkins, Founder and CEO of Digital Health Partnerships.

Digital health in the Covid era: unprecedented growth, new challenges

The phenomenal impact that the pandemic has had in the field of digital health was first discussed. As noted by Laurence Comte-Arassus, digital health now encompasses all age groups and populations. Global digital health investments doubled between 2019 and 2020, from $10.6 billion in 2019 to $21.6 billion in 2020. The use of digital health services exploded around the world, particularly in the field of telemedicine. In 2020 the use of digital services has, for example, not only increased in the UK (+912% of teleconsultations according to the NHS), but also in India (+500% of teleconsultations between March and May 2020), the United States (+2,000% of teleconsultations at Amwell between January and March 2020), China (+900% of Ping An Good Doctor uses in January 2020), and in many European countries. In France, Laura Létourneau explained, there has been a real shift to teleconsultation: remote consultations increased threefold among patients and fivefold among doctors, with an 80% satisfaction rate on both sides. These fundamental trends are now leading to the emergence of new professions specializing in both digital and healthcare, added Virginie Lleu.

Despite the urgency of the pandemic situation, only certain countries put in place adequate regulations to cope with the demand generated by the crisis. Even countries advanced in digital innovations have not necessarily created arrangements to reimburse telemedicine services. This is not the case for France, which can be set as an international example given two impressive investment plans contributing to the development of digital health: The Ségur numérique, a €2 billion plan for the construction of a public digital health platform, and the deployment of France Relance, which allocates €600 million for the training of health professionals, research and development, testing sites, etc.

Nevertheless, as we reach a decisive turning point in this field, some efforts remain to be made so France can involve itself in decisions being made at the international level (data exchange between countries, interoperability, etc.). In recent years, many global governance bodies have been set up in which France’s presence is largely absent. France’s presence on the international stage is not only warranted, but above all politically and economically strategic: it is in France’s interest to be immediately involved in discussions regarding the frameworks, rules, and standards that will define the global exchange of health data. This is the topic of a policy brief we recently wrote with the think tank Santé Mondiale 2030. Laura Létourneau explained that the Ministry’s international teams are being strengthened and that the French Presidency of the European Union (which began in January 2022) presents a great opportunity. However, France can go further by joining groups such as I-DAIR or Transform Health.

On the African continent, which Digital Health Partnerships substantially collaborates with, some countries are emerging as forerunners: Rwanda, a true land of innovation, has been putting in place an enabling framework to foster and encourage the acceleration of digital health for many years. Before France invested in a national digital health strategy, we had no hesitation to say that Rwanda was already ahead of the curve. For example, Rwanda permitted an American company that delivers blood bags by drone to develop locally, even though it was encountering hesitancy and regulatory barriers across the Atlantic. It is interesting to observe what is happening in countries such as Rwanda and to draw inspiration from them for the implementation of innovations in so-called "developed" countries (this is the concept of "reverse innovation"). At the national level, countries should also establish joint governance between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Telecommunications (such as is the case in Rwanda): this was one of the recommendations in the 2017 report of the  Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, which stressed the importance of inter-ministerial cooperation but also the leadership of politicians, which is fundamental for this field. 

Women in digital health: what role, what place?

While women’s place in digital health is still in its infancy, there are many glimmers of hope. In the healthcare sector, more women work in digital roles in Big Pharma companies than ever before, said Virginie Lleu. However, globally, it is noted that while 70% of healthcare providers are women, only 5% of them hold leadership positions! According to a 2020 Rocket Health report, only 40% of female founders of digital health companies said they raised required funds compared to 62% of men. There is some way to go, although there are great examples of women entrepreneurs in digital health to highlight, including those from Africa, e.g., Nneka Mobisson, founder of mDoc in Nigeria, and Juliana Rotich in Kenya, who created Ushahidi.

During the roundtable, efforts to diversify hires within respective organizations were highlighted – this is positive news! Each guest made a point of encouraging women to get involved in the digital health field. In the eyes of participants, women don’t need to copy the mindset of men to stand out and succeed, quite the opposite. The new generation of women entering digital health are supportive and ready to engage, and the health sector has a strong obligation to commit to women’s leadership development! Digital health contributes to increasing access to healthcare and to the reduction of inequalities. At Digital Health Partnerships, this is our raison d’être. We are committed to working with countries that lack the health infrastructure and health workforce required to improve access to care. Remember in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, there are roughly 2 doctors for every 10,000 people, compared to 49 in the European Union.

Our thanks to Femmes Pharma, Women in Tech, Digital Ladies and Techto Med for organizing this exciting roundtable, to the panelists and to Franck Le Meur for the rich and stimulating exchanges.

Florence founded Digital Health Partnerships in 2016, driven by her conviction that digital health can improve people’s lives by increasing access to healthcare information and services. Her passion grew while working as International Director for Government Affairs for Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia, where she advocated social-innovation strategy and digital health to public and private organizations, with a focus on overcoming challenges for scaling.

Her social-entrepreneurial side led her to help build a large-scale mobile-health initiative in Senegal. She also developed an ambitious national project in Mexico, using mobile technology to address diabetes and obesity with the government and various partners from the private sector and civil society.

Her extensive experience in international development, government relations, and building and managing complex partnerships is applied today to scaling digital health in developing and emerging countries. She believes in shared value and argues that global corporations now hold a responsibility to form alliances with NGOs, social entrepreneurs, foundations, governments, and international organizations to help develop sustainable healthcare models.

Driven by her passion for healthcare, notably improving patient care in developing countries, Céline joined the DHP adventure in January 2022 as a Senior Partner to lead projects and develop DHP’s activities.

A graduate of Ecole Centrale de Lyon with a Master in Strategy from ESSEC Business School, Céline brings to DHP 12 years of experience in healthcare consulting across Europe, the Middle East, and in East Africa. She started her career in hospital consulting in Paris, focusing on patient journey improvements, then moved to Dubaï where she worked for 5 years with Ministries of Health, NGOs, and entrepreneurs in Middle Eastern and East African countries to help build sustainable and integrated healthcare systems. She then joined Alcimed as a project manager in their Brussels and Paris offices, working with pharmaceutical laboratories advising key decision makers on their strategic and new business development activities.

Céline is an enthusiastic traveler and enjoys collecting life-lasting memories, such as hiking in Patagonia or diving with manta rays in Indonesia.

Marie joined Digital Health Partnerships from its inception in 2016 after graduating from Sciences Po - Paris School of International Affairs, where she focused on social innovation, global health, and African studies. Her belief in collective intelligence for social impact led her to work for different organizations where these themes are vitally important, including the United Nations in New York and social enterprise start-ups in Paris.

Over the last five years, she has managed DHP’s day-to-day operations, while contributing to various consulting missions in digital health for developing countries.

A strong advocate of ecological and social transition, Marie regularly publishes articles championing these causes in magazines and on websites. She is equally passionate about philosophy, a field in which she is currently pursuing a master’s degree, writing her thesis on “Barriers to ecological action”.

An expert in US-government eHealth policies, regulations, and priorities, as well as in the design of open-source ICT4D platforms for national-scale interventions, Anthony brings over 10 years of experience to DHP. He has designed eHealth interventions at the community, state, and national level as part of larger USAID projects in Tajikistan, Cambodia, Nepal, Madagascar, South Africa, Eswatini, Mozambique, Malawi, Ethiopia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Somalia, and Sudan. Collectively, these projects have leveraged over $25 million in foreign-aid resources to improve last-mile community health, diagnostics, lab systems, supply-chain systems, and improved data analytics and usage among government stakeholders.

Anthony is the founder of Reach Far Relief, a Washington D.C. based organization dedicated to ensuring innovative partners in international development can maximize their impact, scaling and mainstreaming their interventions. Anthony’s current clients are leading social enterprises in the ICT4D, humanitarian, and agriculture spaces. 

Prior to founding Reach Far Relief, Anthony established the Washington office of Dimagi, a leading social enterprise.

Philippe Lepère is an independent consultant specializing in global health and AIDS response, bringing to DHP over 25 years of experience with civil society, bilateral and multilateral cooperation, and research institutions, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

A serving member of The Global Fund’s Technical Review Panel, Philippe is an expert in resilient and sustainable systems for health. He strongly believes that digital health can help overcome barriers to quality care, a conviction that led him to partner with network operator Orange to design and implement a mobile health platform in Côte d’Ivoire.

Philippe’s background in molecular biology and epidemiology, along with his experience in global health and project management, makes him a frequent lecturer at the Bordeaux School of Public Health (ISPED). He is currently a PhD candidate in biomedical science in the Global Health program at the University of Geneva.

Guilhem joined Digital Health Partnerships following a triple degree from emlyon (France), LMUS (United Kingdom), and LMU (Germany), during which he specialized in corporate development with a focus on digital strategy, cross border M&A, and entrepreneurship.

Guilhem’s experience at Philips led him to take an interest in health. At the same time, he is particularly interested in the startup ecosystem, having created his own company to repair sports equipment using 3D printing.

As a high-level athlete in discus throwing and a coach in this discipline – which has nothing to do with Frisbee! – Guilhem chose consultancy: being able to analyze performance and exchange with people to give them the best possible advice is what he is passionate about in his extra-professional life.

Patrick joined DHP in September 2021, focusing on content creation and managing its website and social-media channels. DHP’s mission – improving universal access to healthcare in underserved areas – struck a chord: Patrick enjoys putting the spotlight on worthy causes, so spreading the word about DHP’s work is a perfect fit.

After his journalism studies at NYU, Patrick became managing editor of an award-winning art magazine in New York, where he lived for 10 years before returning to his native France. In Paris, he worked as editor-in-chief of several magazines, then as editorial director for a brand-content agency, before becoming an independent editorial consultant.

Although he is thankful to have children who keep him up to date about the metaverse, NFTs, and TikTok, Patrick prefers to focus on what happens IRL (in real life), which is still the only place where he can enjoy his favorite pastimes: running along the beach and eating pasta primavera.

Patrick Veron is an entrepreneurial business consultant who has been a key actor in the development of digital infrastructures and businesses for more than two decades.

A strong believer in “technology with a purpose”, Patrick helped launch innovative health-tech and digital health solutions in Asia, with a focus on building relevant business models to achieve growth in rapidly changing environments. He has also supported various e-health initiatives and organized forums for start-ups interested in bringing their tech innovations to Asia.

Patrick has also advised several digital health companies and incubators on their strategy to enter Asian markets.

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